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The Truth About Japanese' Knowledge on Japan

I ask you not to expect every Japanese to be able to illuminate you on Japanese history or art. In fact, I would say that nine out of ten Japanese can give you an accurate answer to neither of the two subjects. This goes to show that not all Japanese are well-informed nor interested in their own history, culture or art. Likewise, it's wrong to assume that every single Japanese you meet practices the way of tea or flower arrangement. When it comes to traditional performing arts such as Noh and Kabuki, my guess is that less than 20% of all Japanese have a passable knowledge.

Perhaps Japanese education should bear part of the blame. But an even deeper issue is revealed upon examining modern Japanese history. Japan opened its long-closed shores to the outside world in the Meiji era, and the subsequent deluge of modern western culture held the people spellbound. In its restless pursuit to catch up with the refined customs of the developed nations, Japan chose to leave its brilliant history, culture and art behind.

This neglect towards traditional beauty has resulted in grave repercussions in the proper evaluation of Japanese art, not only within Japan but overseas as well. For example, some generally held views on Japanese art today contain baseless information. As an art dealer, I have been quite concerned about this. Such false notions came into being because of biased opinions and elusory responses on the part of the Japanese to questions asked in the past by zealous foreign researchers and collectors. These dedicated researchers later made public comments or published research books including the misleading information, and many of them came to be acknowledged as established theories.

In my judgment, responding to innocent questions by foreigners with a simple "I don't know" would have been more sincere, no matter whether it concerned one's own country or not. Of course, art dealers like myself are also greatly responsible for such misunderstandings, and I believe each one of us must reflect deeply on this problem and vow to never repeat the same mistake.

Historically, artworks belonged to the privileged few and the general public rarely had a chance to even get a glimpse of them until modern times. I myself would not have been able to gain knowledge on Japanese art had it not been my vocation. But those who do have the obligation to protect and promote art in Japan have lost sight of their mission. They have been taken to western values that seem more stimulating than their own, and even forgetting how this beautiful country should be.

Since the introduction of U.S.-style market economy after World War II, the Japanese have been enjoying an affluent lifestyle. But such wealth is merely material wealth achieved through the feverish pursuit of American values. Today, many Japanese travel overseas and carry famous designer goods, but when it comes to knowledge of or appreciation towards traditional culture or art, 95% of the Japanese possess nearly none. In Europe, the degree of people's social status and honor parallel the depth of their knowledge for culture and art. Sadly, in Japan, this is not the case.

The irresponsible attitude on the part of the Japanese towards sharing information on Japanese art led to misunderstandings not only towards art but also towards Japan itself and its people as well. I've always held a firm view that, in order for Japan to truly be accepted in the international arena, the Japanese must first "learn about their own country and provide accurate information about themselves to the world, and stand up for Japan's position in the globe with confidence, not subservience."

For sixty years after the Pacific War, Fuji-Torii has been set on not carrying any tourist-pleasing designs such as "Fujiyama" or "Geisha-girls", even if some of our customers asked for them. This website only carries honest, genuine Japanese artworks made in Japan. And I intend to continue to express in this column only what I believe to be the truth, by providing accurate information on Japanese art as well as sharing my views on what the Japanese and Japan really are, and how they ought to be.